Gregg Holshouser’s Outdoors Column | Fish Meister out of Calabash, N.C. finishes second in SKA Nationals

Sure, veteran Calabash angler Dean Spatholt was thrilled with finishing second in the prestigious SKA Nationals held in Biloxi, Miss., last weekend.

To finish second among the best king mackerel anglers from North Carolina to Texas, is certainly a tremendous accomplishment. And the $25,000 in cash and prizes his crew aboard Fish Meister earned wasn’t too bad either.

But what got Spatholt most excited was the epic king mackerel bite he and the other three crew members encountered last Friday on the first day of fishing.

Spatholt, along with Chris Blanton of Socastee, David Haynes of Ft. Lauderdale and formerly of North Myrtle Beach, and Steve Miller of Philadelphia, were fishing on an oil rig – an Exxon rig – 85 miles southeast of Biloxi, using blue runners (hardtails) for bait.

“It was the best, biggest king bite I’ve ever been involved in,” Spatholt said. “They wouldn’t eat mullet, they wouldn’t eat ribbonfish, they would only eat hardtails.”

Fortunately the crew had spent the previous day catching bait, and plenty of hardtails were in the live well.

“We put out two lines and never had to put out more than two lines,” Spatholt said. “There for two hours we were constantly hooked up with two lines.”

During the intense bite, Spatholt said the crew caught 35 kings all over 30 pounds including three over 50 pounds and 15 over 40 pounds. The largest fish – a 55.26-pounder was the second-largest king caught on opening day.

The format for the event was an aggregate of the largest king caught by each boat for each of the two days of fishing, and Fish Meister narrowly trailed leader Penny-Less of Lake Worth, Fla., which sat atop the leaderboard with a 56.43-pound king.

Spatholt piloted the Fish Meister, a 36-foot Yellowfin powered by Yamaha, out to the same rig for Saturday, the second day of fishing, although sea conditions had worsened.

“We were the first boat there by 20 minutes and by the time the third boat got there we had already caught nine fish,” Spatholt said. “But then the bite virtually stopped. We moved to different spots but didn’t do anything and that was the end of the day.”

The largest king they caught was a 41.71-pounder, good for an aggregate of 96.97 pounds back at the scales in Biloxi.

But the Penny-Less crew caught a 46.62-pound king to up their aggregate to 103.05 pounds to win the championship.

“I was excited about [finishing] second, but it was more exciting to be involved in a bite that good,” Spatholt said. “To have the opportunity to experience what we experienced, was satisfying enough in itself.”

Spiced Run III of Riviera Beach, Fla., took third with a 91.91-pound aggregate followed by Seafood Kitchen of Jacksonville, Fla., at 90.82 pounds and Sea Dog of Redington Beach, Fla., at 90.42 pounds to round out the top five.

Joe Winslow of Sunset Beach, N.C., a professor of instructional technology at Coastal Carolina University, captained a crew of CCU students to a superb 15th-place finish. Winslow and crew, fishing aboard Hooligan, a 34-foot Yellowfin powered by Yamaha, caught kings weighing 41.91 and 42.97 pounds for an 84.88-pound aggregate.

Choice Of Two of Sunset Beach, N.C., finished 22nd with 79.72 pounds and Team OIFC of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., finished 29th with 77.38 pounds.

Spatholt reflected on his draining week-long fishing adventure in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this week. Spatholt and crew fished seven straight days including two days in the SKA pro event that preceded the Nationals.

“It was a great time. I recommend to anybody to go out there to fish,” said Spatholt, who finished 5th in a previous SKA Nationals event at Biloxi. “I’ve fished from Key West to Cocodrie, La., but Biloxi is the best place in my opinion. It doesn’t matter what you’re fishing for. We caught big yellowfin tuna, big wahoo [while pre-fishing].

“ Everybody talks about the oil disaster and how it was going to affect the fishing down there. It didn’t faze it – it’s strong as it’s ever been.”

Hooks for Hearts

The 7th annual Hooks For Hearts Charity Trout Tournament will be held Saturday in Murrells Inlet.

Captains Meeting is set for Friday evening at 6 p.m. at Dead Dog Saloon in Murrells Inlet.

Entry fee is $80 per boat with a kayak division also available for $25. First place earns $1,000. The tournament benefits The American Heart Association and the Winston Perry Reef Foundation.

For more information, call Capt. Englis Glover at 843-655-5459.